“Back to School” (Colossians 2:6-15)

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 25, 2010

“Back to School” (Colossians 2:6-15)

“Back to School.” You can see the ads already, even now in late July. Stores and students are gearing up for the return to classes, come mid-August. Yes, I know, many of us can remember when “Back to School” meant early September, but that was so 20th century. Get with the program.

But for the Christian, “Back to School” never goes out of season. You and I as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ are always learning, always growing. And we see that reflected in our lessons today from the New Testament. In the Holy Gospel, Jesus’ disciples ask their Master, “Lord, teach us,” in this case, “teach us to pray.” And in the Epistle, St. Paul instructs the Colossians to continue to walk in Christ, “just as you were taught.” Christian disciples are those who are taught by our Lord, and his school never goes out of session.

Now for today’s lesson, we’re going to focus on the Epistle. There St. Paul writes: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

This is a very positive instruction, isn’t it? Paul reminds the Colossian Christians about how they had received Christ, received him as a gift, received with joy his gospel of salvation when they heard it. This was the working of God’s Holy Spirit, bringing them to faith, and the Spirit has not finished working in their lives. “So walk in Christ,” Paul tells them. This is beautiful biblical language for how we conduct our lives, to describe it as “walking.” We walk in Christ. We do not walk alone, but we always are walking with our Savior on the path of life, he right beside us, leading the way. “Rooted in him.” Another picturesque image to describe our Christian life. We are like a tree planted beside the stream, sinking our roots in deep, not swaying or breaking in the storms of life, not withering in the heat, but drawing our life from Christ, fruitful and flourishing. “And built up in him.” Now the image turns to a construction project, Christ being the firm foundation, we growing strong and solid, brick upon brick, God’s love and God’s word being the mortar that keeps us connected.

And then Paul says: “Established in the faith, just as you were taught.” You and I and those Colossian Christians–we all have been taught the faith. There is a content to be learned here. This is the role of catechesis, that is, basic instruction in the ABCs of the faith. You all have been catechized and confirmed. We want that for our children, too, that they get that foundational grounding in Christian doctrine.

But keep in mind, this instruction does not stop on the day of our confirmation. Christians are lifelong learners. There is always more of the Christian faith for us to grow in, to grow in our understanding. Here is where our Bible classes come into play. The more of God’s word you take hold of and take to heart, the stronger will be your faith.

“Established in the faith, just as you were taught.” But now notice, when I talk about being taught, about learning, I am not talking about merely acquiring some facts, some knowledge, to enable you to win some Bible trivia game. No, this is learning for life, real life, we’re talking about. It’s about being grounded in the truth, so that error will not deceive us and lead us astray.

That’s what Paul gets at next. He says: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

Here a little background information is in order. Paul is writing to the church at Colossae, a congregation made up of both Jews and Gentiles. And in that first-century world, in churches like this one, there were at least two strong, competing influences at work that might pull the Christians away from their faith and their salvation. One was Greek philosophy, and the other was Jewish legalism. Paul is referring to both here is this section.

You’ll see that as we go on a bit. He writes: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands. . . .”

Greek philosophy and Jewish legalism. The pull of Greek philosophy was to regard the things of this earth, material things, as inherently evil. If you wanted to be really spiritual, you had to ascend above the material and be filled with the higher knowledge, the secret knowledge, available to only the “perfected ones.” If you weren’t filled in this way, you couldn’t be a first-class Christian.

But Paul rejects this brand of super-spirituality that would elevate one Christian above another. And he rejects the notion that God could not possibly work in and through material means, namely, in the physical body of the incarnate Christ. Listen again to what he says: “For in him,” that is, in Christ, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him.” Christ is true God, come in the flesh. Fully divine, fully human. It could be no other way, in order for him to be our Savior. Only God could save us, and that saving would require dying for our sins, which means, bearing our sins in his body. True God, true man, one Christ. A dying Savior. Greek philosophy could not grasp this; it was foolishness to them. But this is the one and only Savior we have, the God-man Jesus Christ.

And so, with Christ, having received Christ with his Spirit in your baptism, you have been filled in him. You are not some second-class Christian. Don’t let anybody fool you or try to sell you on some “secret knowledge” or additional “Spirit-baptism” you need in order to be a full-blown Christian. This kind of super-spirituality appeal has surfaced in various forms down through the centuries: Gnosticism, Pietism, Pentecostalism, the charismatic movement. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Don’t go there; it’s a dead end.

Greek philosophy was the first-century version. And then there was Jewish legalism. These “Judaizers” were a real thorn in the flesh for Paul. They dogged his steps and interfered with his work. They said to the Gentile Christians that you had to become like a Jew in order to be saved. You had to get circumcised, keep the dietary laws, the whole nine yards. They failed to distinguish between the Old Testament forms that God had used to point ahead to Christ and the New Testament fulfillment, the reality that now has come in Christ. And they made the keeping of these now-obsolete rules a matter of necessity for one’s salvation.

That was the worst of it, because it diminished God’s free grace in Christ. And it put a lot of pressure on people, this rule-keeping that you had to do in order to be saved. Nobody can live up to that. That is the religion of the Law, not the Gospel. And so Paul warns strongly against that. You Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised. You’ve already received Christ; you’ve had your sinful flesh, the guilt of it, already cut away from you, which is what Old Testament circumcision was pointing ahead to. That’s what Paul is getting at when he says: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.” This is the Gospel freedom you were taught. Don’t let anyone pull you away from that.

“Established in the faith, just as you were taught.” Now what is that faith, in which we’ve been established and which we have been taught? Paul goes on to tell us, and what a glorious gospel message it is: “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Here it is: You were dead in your sins. There was a certificate of debt written against you, which you could not pay. You could never pay off all the debt of your sins under God’s Law. But Christ, God’s holy Son, did. He took that bill, that debt you owe, and he nailed it to the cross. Jesus’ blood, shed for you on the cross, cries out, “Paid in full”! Debt canceled, sin forgiven! Yes, it’s true! Jesus did that for you!

And now you have been buried with Christ in Holy Baptism, your old dead man of sin put under the water, and you have been raised up with Christ into newness of life. You are a new creature now in Christ. God has made you alive, new life coursing through your veins. Eternal life, life that has victory over death. Christ has won the victory for you, triumphing over sin, death, and the devil by his death on the cross and his glorious resurrection. All this is God’s gift to you in Christ. Don’t ever forget it. This is who you are now in Christ.

You are complete now in Christ, filled . . . filled and yet, not yet finished. God is still working on you. There is more to learn as Christ’s disciple, more construction work to be done on you and me, more and more growing stronger in the faith–in short, more walking in Christ to do, as you trust in God and serve your neighbor your whole life long.

Fellow disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, school is back in session! It never goes out of session for us Christians, and that’s a good thing. For us, “Back to School” simply means continuing to walk with our Savior.

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Published in: on July 24, 2010 at 9:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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